To get to New Zealand from Colorado, it’s usually a twenty-five or thirty-hour trip. The big hop in this flight, Houston to Auckland, was fourteen and a half hours, but it wouldn’t be international if you didn’t have a six or eight-hour layover in an American city first. I won’t mention that the first leg out of Colorado Springs was delayed an hour and a half. That would just be whining.
I find my departure gate by heading toward the largest crowd blocking the terminal. We take up some space; tour groups, families with kids, odds ‘n ends like me. I’m told this is the second longest flight on the planet. May I just say that’s the very last and least inspiring thing my backside wants to know. But it could be worse, they say. The flight through Dubai is a couple of hours longer.
A man standing next to me is wearing flannel pajama bottoms which is not the conservative choice. Most women wear leggings or jeans. I prefer to preserve my marginal veneer of professional behavior, so I wear what I like to call business pajamas. Some thin-fabric hiking pants, as baggy as flannel, and a hoodie so I can make a dark little head-cave. Those sleep masks are just a little too Hollywood for me. Looking around me, I fear my idea of professional attire has resulted in another clean miss.
When my boarding group is called a wave of humanity moves forward. I’m in seat 54F, just by the wing, so I didn’t have to walk my sideways banging-my-backpack-on-every-seatback-down-the-aisle walk that final quarter mile to the tail of the plane. Best of all, I’ve scored a window seat so when I fall asleep, there will be a 50% chance that I won’t drool on the person crammed into the seat next to me.
I found my seat and unpacked my personal self-inflating whoopie cushion for my delicate derriere and a fleece scarf-like contraption that has a plastic brace inside, that I velcro around my neck so when I wake up my head is right where I left it. On this flight, there’s a woman in the aisle seat of my row. We held our breath until the plane door closed. Then with a smile, we verbally acknowledged the relief of not sitting next to each other. The middle seat remained empty, except that it was piled shoulder high with blankets and pillows.
On long international flights, there is a screen just in front of your eyes displaying things like geeky flight details, shopping channels, and best of all, first-run movies. If you happen to work weekends like most horse trainers, this might be easier than driving into town on date night. I watched two feature-length movies and then slept like a stone, for about as long as I do in my own bed, which has dogs with wet noses and pointy feet, and isn’t as quiet as it is here, on a thundering jet plane.
Not everyone is as good at sleeping in public as I am. I consider it a superpower.
A decade later, the lights come up and there’s a line by the bathroom, all of us shifting our weight from one leg to the other, not for the usual reason. We’re trying to flex our swollen ankles. Then breakfast and somehow the eggs on Air New Zealand flights end up being outlandishly good. I’m pretty sure they don’t cook them as we fly but how could those eggs actually have made the same long-winded, roaringly dull, and butt-flattening trip I have? I gasp at their warmth and soft texture, carefully balancing them to my mouth but spilling them off my plastic fork on the way, and the tiny packaged pepper is the very best ever.
This is how you can tell you have been on the second longest flight on earth. You’ve lost your mind but in a dodderingly kind and ineffective way. In hindsight, I wonder if I’ve been drugged.
I shuffle on said swollen ankles, (yes, I wear support hose but I don’t want to talk about it,) banging my way to deplane and head for customs. This is my second trip, so I know better than to bring my favorite rope this time. Or any snacks or anything else I might enjoy. And I’ve packed my immaculately cleaned and manure-free boots on top, which they disinfect anyway, and I slide through customs about an hour and a half quicker than the last trip because I am trainable.
Then the final leg; this is the part of the trip where I get in a car with a stranger, but this time it isn’t the stranger I’ve emailed a few dozen times to arrange the clinic. Equidays has sent a car, with a very kind man who recognizes me somehow, even though I’ve worn my business professional pajamas and my hair looks like it’s been trapped with a few rats in a small head-cave. He buys me a flat white, puts my over-stuffed bag into a new car, and drives me to the event location. It’s about to bloom.
And then off to a hotel room where I will sleep for the next six consecutive nights. A thing unheard of in my pack-and-repack travel life. The shower is huge and the sheets are cool and crisp. Did they actually press these pillowcases?
Drifting off to sleep on the other side of the world, I’m so grateful I swoon. I owe so much to horse people here, some of whom were the first to start reading my blog nine years ago. Some who took a chance in attending a clinic earlier this year, and some who spent the time to type my rather short name in when Equidays asked. I owe so much to you, thank you. But most of all, gratitude to generations of horses who have had my back since I was a child.
The next morning, Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz, Spanish Olympic rider and trainer, is in the indoor arena with an upper-level dressage rider. Outside, I meet my courageous demo riders, who have no idea who I am or how I train. I promise them I’ll put their horse first. That I won’t ask anything unless I’m certain they will both succeed. The riders might not quite believe me.
Applause for Juan, and it’s my turn with a presentation about dressage for non-traditional breeds. I follow my demo horses into the arena, the stands are filled with spectators.
I have zero nerves. Because… horses.
(to be continued.)